- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — Israel is looking to a U.S.-Indian nuclear deal to expand its own ties to suppliers, quietly lobbying for an exemption to nonproliferation rules so it can legally import atomic material, according to documents made available yesterday to the Associated Press.

The move is sure to raise concerns among Arab nations already considering their neighbor the region’s atomic arms threat. Israel has never publicly acknowledged having nuclear weapons but is generally considered to possess them.

The new push is reflected in papers Israel presented earlier this year to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) — 45 nations that export nuclear fuel and technology under strict rules meant to lessen the dangers of proliferation and trafficking in materials that could be used for a weapons program.

The initiative appeared to be linked to a U.S.-Indian agreement that would effectively waive the group’s rules by allowing the United States to supply India with nuclear fuel despite its refusal both to sign the nonproliferation treaty and allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its nuclear facilities.

Israeli officials began examining how their country could profit from that deal as early as last year, at one point proposing that the United States ask for an exemption from restrictions stipulating safeguards by the U.N. nuclear agency on all nuclear facilities, said a diplomat familiar with the issue. Washington rejected that request, he said, demanding anonymity for discussing restricted information.

The diplomat said the Israeli papers were “acknowledged but definitely not embraced” by the NSG member nations.

Still, the documents show that Israel has not given up its quest.

Under a cover letter labeled “confidential,” the two papers were circulated among the group March 19 by Japan, whose mission to Vienna’s International Atomic Energy Agency serves as the liaison office for the group.

Among the hurdles still to be cleared before the U.S.-Indian pact becomes reality is NSG approval of an exemption for India from group restrictions.

Besides India, only Pakistan and North Korea are known to have nuclear weapons and be outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel is considered an undeclared weapons state, with a doctrine of “nuclear ambiguity.”

Despite close U.S.-Israeli ties, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns appeared to rule out special treatment for the Jewish state, telling reporters earlier this year that NSG countries needed to know the deal with India “won’t be a precedent to bring other countries in under the same basis.”

The most recent tensions over Israel’s nuclear capabilities surfaced at the IAEA’s 148-nation general conference. On Thursday, the Vienna meeting’s penultimate day, only the United States and Israel voted against a critical resolution implicitly aimed at the Jewish state for refusing to put its nuclear program under international purview.

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